Friday night, I set off for the Pond House in Elizabeth Park with The Boyfriend to meet up with Gay Guru and others for their 2nd Annual Taste of the Pond House event. Now, I was extremely excited about this since the owner of the PH brought up Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos, Colombia’s recently named top new chef. Not only was his picture adorable, but he is from the school of Molecular Gastronomy which, if you watch Iron Chef you should be a little familiar with. Also referred to as progressive cuisine, molecular cooking, and the like, it focuses on preparing food in ways other than just heating it up–foams, liquid nitrogen, etc. play a large role. The theme for the night seemed to be deconstruction–if not out right destruction–of some old favorites, as well as hitting us with some straight up never-before-seen type of stuff.
First, the Pond House has undergone some renovations since I was last there–which makes the venue look bigger, brighter, and simply better. While it’s never looked like your typical boring event venue, it just looks more polished and you can’t beat a view of Elizabeth Park any time of year.
The place was set up with various stations where much of the preparation was done before your
eyes with helpful explanations as to what the heck was going on. I mean, you see a chunk of meat under a cloudy glass being handed to you, someone had better tell you that they’ve used a smoke gun to add the smoked flavor and your meat is sauna-ing in it… otherwise, you might call the bomb squad.
From chicken wrapped in cotton candy with honey mustard ice cream and a side of French fry foam (which I would happily eat an entire BOWL of at the moment) to chocolate dipped bacon and a deconstructed pina colada (a cube of pineapple, a cube of coconut gelatin and whipped cream all on a spoon…pop it in your mouth and you’re on a beach with a hot cabana boy), everything just wowed me. I mean, who would have thought something like “banana caviar” served on a rice cracker would be so delicious? Or that Brie ice cream (yes, Brie as in the cheese) would combine two of my favorite things so perfectly?
However, two of my favorite “moments” were of the sweeter variety. I hadn’t taken a test tube shot in years…although I have had tequila more recently. However, there they were, dozens of test tubes full of tequila and paired with a test tube filled with what looked like pixie stick dust, which you were to pour on your tongue before throwing back the tequila. It was amazing. There was this tropical fruit taste that wasn’t chemically or fake like a real pixie stick, and it mixed perfectly with the tequila. It may have been guava…whatever it was, it was delightful. According the the Gay Guru, my normally slanted eyes went perfectly round. I had several of those test tubes.
My next amazing experience came in the form of a cellophane wrapped substance that was shoved into a tube of liquid nitrogen. Now, this thing looked like a tiny packet of illegal substance…and I was thinking, “Well, the guy is Colombian…” But no, we were to unwrap the packet and shove it quickly in our mouths and roll it around. Suddenly, the sensation of cold, creamy, fruitiness crackling in my mouth like pop rocks hit me while “smoke” from the liquid nitrogen poured out of my nose. The sound of crackles and pops surrounded me and I jumped up and down like a five-year-old. The mistake I made was trying to consume the rest of the substance still in my package…it’s a time sensitive thing, people, so instead I wound up covered in bits of it for the rest of the night.
I topped off the night with a glass of rose wine poured over violet and cassis foam which tasted heavenly and not as sweet as one might think. Just when I thought I was finished for the night they were passing out these strange stems with a button of yellow. The Gay Guru said that eating it tasted like licking a nine volt battery. What the hell, why not?
He was not kidding. Weird tingling sensations alternated between warm and metallic tastes, then sour, which brought my eyes back to their natural slantiness. It was like a chef’s practical joke.
The entire event was quite the experience and my taste buds have been doing a happy dance ever since. If you ever have the opportunity to see what molecular gastronomy is all about, I highly recommend doing it–you will walk away with your mind and senses happily reeling.